Last Friday, a frustrated client came into my office.  He seemed a little down and dejected, unlike his usual self.  And when I asked him how things were going, he blurted out: “Not good.  I had an interview at Microsoft yesterday and I (err) ‘mucked’ it up really badly!”

My response?  I didn’t bat an eye.  I simply reminded him that “you win some, you lose some” when it comes to job hunting and that failure, setbacks, and the occasional “mucking up” of things is all just part of the process.  In fact, it would be pretty amazing if the average professional DIDN’T royally screw something up from time to time during the course of their job search regimen.  After all, most of you out there (especially those who have been gainfully employed for many years) don’t look for work, write resumes, or interview all that terribly often, do you?  So why would you be great at it?  Why we would we assume you’re going to be able to deliver an Olympic-caliber performance in your job acquisition efforts, right out the gate?

The key, however, as with any skill involving a learning curve, is to not wallow in your mistakes and sit around feeling sorry for yourself.  Take some time, instead, to analyze what you did wrong, learn from it, and commit to not making the same mistake again.  Did you absolutely botch a recent interview question about salary requirements?  Then come up with a better answer to this question and practice it, at least ten times, until you’ve got it down cold.  Did you ramble on nervously and incessantly, right out of the gate, when the hiring manager asked you to tell him/her a little about yourself?  Same thing.  Prepare a short, structured answer — following the advice I’ve given in this blog or any other formula you can find out there — and then drill yourself on delivering this response, multiple times, until you can confidently respond without missing a beat.

Again, I think the underlying issue that holds a lot of unemployed professionals back in this regard is the failure to accept that the process of “marketing yourself” has emerged as a distinct, legitimate competency in its own right.  And that as a result, it can be learned and mastered, just like any other skill or competency.  In the old days, this was less the case, because jobs weren’t nearly as transient and there wasn’t nearly as much competition or as many available outlets one could use to promote their credentials.  Back then, your circle of friends and the Sunday paper were pretty much the only tools of the trade.  These days, however, most professionals will need to invest some time studying the modern job market and learning at least the rudiments of how to promote themselves if they plan on being able to compete effectively for open positions.

So if you’ve made a significant blunder recently in your search, whether in the interviewing process or in some other aspect of the game, try not to beat yourself up too badly over it.  Recognize that mistakes are a natural part of getting better at something, and that while you may rightfully kick yourself for losing the short-term battle, you can still “win the war” if you isolate the issues that trip you up and work hard to improve on them.  You’ve got all the resources you need to do this, ranging from this blog to hundreds of other blogs to a wagonload of books in the library that can help you get better at every stage of the job search routine, if you find the willpower and invest the time.  But it all starts with your mindset and with reframing your setbacks not as fatal mistakes, but as useful learning opportunities.

On a related note, while I’m not sure how many of you out there are basketball fans, the Division I College Men’s Championship Game just so happens to be taking place tonight — pitting the much more established University of Connecticut team against an eighth-seeded Cinderella team, the Butler Bulldogs.  And in an interview I saw this weekend, I was intrigued to learn that the Butler coach started the tournament off by placing a sign on the locker of each and every one of his players.  Did the sign say “We’re going to win!” or “Bulldogs are #1!”  No.  It simply said “You won’t play perfect.”

Smart coach.  And he’s right, they haven’t.

But they’re playing for the Championship title tonight, nonetheless…